Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Report #86 - Wheelworld by Harry Harrison

Book 10 of 52
Page count - 149 pages

Well, this was a very different book from the first.  Gone is the oppressive, Cold War type, 1984-esque first world society.  Jan Kulozik has been banished to an agricultural world light years away from Earth.  It is a strange world with four-year-long seasons; forcing the colonists to migrate from one polar region to the opposite in order to avoid the hellish summers.  They grow a specially developed corn that is needed for the other worlds under Earth's rule.

Even though Jan is now in an agrarian society there is still plenty of oppression brought on by the family elders.  Equality does not exist; men and women have their roles to play and a man's standing is determined by the job he does and what family he comes from. 

Jan is the head of maintenance; responsible for maintaining the farming and irrigation equipment.  He also keeps the atomic power plants working.  These generators are also, cleverly, converted into massive wheeled locomotives.  Nearly everything in the colony is designed to be moved and linked together into enormous trains. 

The bulk of the story takes place during the migration from the north to the south.  The colonists have been on the planet for generations; the original inhabitants designed and built a 27,000 KM road for the migrations to take place.  Along the way they face all kinds of hardships and obstacles causing friction among the elders and those in charge of the trains.  This particular migration is hindered by absence of the ships that normally come to collect the crops; they are weeks late and every day the colonists stay on site to wait brings summer closer.

The trains themselves made for some interesting story telling but even with this short page count it did tend to drag on.  Missing from the narrative was Jan's past and the rebellion he tried to start on Earth.  It was that complex society from Earth that caught my attention in the first place.  Jan has repeated conflicts with the ruling elders which he cleverly wins each time.  His last brush with authority is particularly scary and brutal.

The last 10 pages will either make you cheer or groan.  It felt like Harrison wrote himself into a corner and felt he had to create a surprise twist to make the story compelling.  It did not work for me and I kind of wish he'd kept Jan on Earth instead of banishing him.  A whole world was developed in the previous novel and then abandoned in the second.  I just hope the author can tie them both together in the last book.
Original book cover

Harry Harrison

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